Do Colder Waters Off West Coast Mean a Return to ‘Normal’?

by on August 28, 2019 · 0 comments

in California, Environment, Ocean Beach

By Deborah Sullivan Brennan/ San Diego Union-Tribune / Aug. 27, 2019

Record high Pacific Ocean temperatures recorded off the West Cost in recent years have receded to near normal, according to a report on the California Current.

That cool shift marks the end of “the blob,” the mass of warm water that dominated the West Coast, and of the El Nino event that followed. It’s unclear, however, what that means for fish and marine mammals, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated in the 2019 ecosystem status report for the California Current Ecosystem.

“The big thing is that a lot of the physical conditions of the ocean here off of our coast are beginning to return to normal,” said Elliott Hazen,” a research ecologist with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “But it is not clear yet whether the ecosystem is as well.”

Starting around late 2013, waters off the West Coast rose two to four degrees above normal, as a high-pressure system in the Pacific shut down westerly winds that channel cool waters down the West Coast. That gave rise to the warm, stagnant waters of “the blob,” an oceanic anomaly that continued until about 2016. Ocean warming continued with an El Nino event in 2015-16, in which warm equatorial water heats up the ocean off California.

Throughout that period, populations of sardines and other small fish crashed, leading to record numbers of young sea lion strandings. It also brought tropical fish, including yellowfin and bluefin tuna, into California waters.

That wave of warm water culminated last August, when the sea surface temperature at the Scripps Pier in La Jolla hit a record 78.6 degrees, the highest reading in the pier’s 102-year history.

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